ESI Q and A Forums > ESI Q and A Forum > Questions and discussions for the ESI Q and A Forum > Hard pace and no canter in TWH
|Moderated by: DrDeb|
|I’ve been looking at a lot of historical threads on your forum lately, spectated a Buck clinic last month, and attended your anatomy clinic last fall (and went home with plenty of reading and watching material). I’ve had a rough year with not much riding and now I am revisiting a lot of basics, but things are moving faster and better because my feel and understanding has improved. There is one thing in particular (among many I’m sure) that I think I’ve handled incorrectly in the past which Buck got me thinking about, so I want to write in and get your thoughts. I think you can be of great help as I believe you have dealt with similar things in Ollie. I know we’ve talked a bit about these things last year and I’m in a better place to get to work on this.
My horse, Flag, is a pacey TWH. She won’t canter under saddle on the flat, though I can get canter if we are going up a hill. She also sometimes offers the most awful pace that is difficult to ride and I’ve been at a loss how to improve that. I always put off pushing the issue thinking at some point we’ll “address this.” At Buck’s clinic he mentioned something interesting that was different from my own assumptions – he said that he always practices all gaits in his work even when the horse is green; and only until he can achieve a relaxed “insert gait here” on a loose rein will he think about asking for softening and collection in that gait. He also mentioned how difficult it is to re-introduce a gait to a horse after not using it. I have neglected canter and pace/trot and I believe now that I’ve set myself up for more trouble. I historically was under the impression (probably incorrectly interpreted) that if you could not get “good movement” in a particular gait, you need to “perfect good movement” at the walk or lower gaits first. I put these terms in quotes because I recognize they are vague, and quite honestly they have been vague in my own mind too. I think the times I do try to canter or pace/trot under saddle I’ve expected too much in terms of balance and self-carriage, and became discouraged when it wasn’t immediately there. Basically, I think I’ve spent too much time at the walk and these other gaits are even harder to get now, especially under saddle. I’m contemplating how to start over on this.
I’ve been working her on the ground and she will canter when I can get the relaxation level correct (I still need a lot of practice here, she will just hard pace if I raise my feathers too high). I’m taking my time with this, but I also think I should get a little more active and motivated if I actually want to effect a change here. I think she has decent conformation, I know she can canter, she can offer me a few steps of soft and nice pace, and she can trot at liberty sometimes and over ground poles. The problems lie with me and my lack of skill to bring these things out and improve the quality. At least for now this is what I believe.
I am definitely muddled. I think there are multiple issues I have now that I can feel which may put me in the right direction. Here are the current things I’m working on (in no particular order).
a) Responsiveness from the leg. She should output decent energy when asked to increase it, both in saddle and on the ground. If I ask for an upward transition she should go to trot/pace, not her lazy amble. This is getting better.
b) Cone serpentines (Buck’s exercise for the flighty horses at his clinics); lots of them. For her brain and my focus (she sometimes wants to run out of the circle away from the nearby cows) and also to release tension in the neck and back while stepping the hind leg under to form the small circles.
c) Pace on a loose rein, then follow up with a one-rein stop when she becomes unbalanced. Make sure she softens and gives here, and “roll over the hindquarters” (“untrack” I believe in your terminology) until she lets loose.
d) Canter on a loose rein (for now on the ground, since canter is virtually impossible to get under saddle on the flat, and I have no safe hills). You have a thread about working with this on the ground that I have been using as a guide: http://esiforum.mywowbb.com/forum1/2253.html
What do you think? Am I addressing the wrong things or perhaps too much at once? I think there are some foundational things that we are still green at, but I also want to keep focus on encouraging all of the gaits in our practice.
Thanks for all of your wonderful guidance!
Last edited on Thu Sep 13th, 2018 03:24 pm by sumosha
|Sumosha, you send a very thoughtful report with good details, which helps me be able to help you.
Horses pace for two reasons: (1) They have the 'knack' for it, i.e. their neurology or the way the ganglion over the loins is composed, makes it possible for them. And/or (2) Because they are stiff through the ribcage.
Note I say 'and/or'. A horse that is not neurologically a pacer, i.e. that is not a 'natural pacer', may pace because it is stiff. But so may a horse that IS a natural pacer.
As you note, we want the horse to pace when we ask it to pace, trot (if it is capable of trot) when we ask it to trot, amble when we ask it to amble, canter when we ask it to canter. This is a function, however, not only of the horse's obedience but of two other things: (1) how stiff through the ribcage the horse is; and (2) whether the rider completely and fully understands what trotting, pacing, ambling, or cantering involves, i.e. the rider understands what they are asking the horse to do.
So we have several factors to consider: whether the horse has a knack for pacing, which undoubtedly your TWH does have; whether it can also trot or diagonally coordinate, which your TWH also evidently can do. More in question is how stiff she is, and your own level of understanding or technical knowledge, especially of the canter.
Now, as to fluid bending, I want you to pop up out of this thread and read the answer I just posted to the guy who was asking about weight shift for lateral bending. This contains a summary of what it means for a horse to bend properly or fluidly.
Note that whenever a horse does bend properly and fluidly, it will be carrying more of its weight on the outside pair of limbs than on the inside pair of limbs. The smaller the diameter of the circle that it is capable of negotiating fluidly, the greater the percentage of its weight is borne by the outside pair of limbs.
Therefore, an excellent way to tell when the horse has reached a diameter, or the rider/handler is asking it to negotiate a diameter of circle too small for it, is that you will see the animal shift its weight to the inside pair of legs. If you're longeing the horse, this will make the outer surfaces of the neck, shoulder, and ribcage bulge more or less toward you. It will also cause the hindquarter, as well as usually also the nose, to point toward the outside of the curve; and it will make it difficult or impossible for the animal to untrack with the inside hind limb.
This is the first technical thing that you have to understand about asking your horse to bend or to execute circular figures: if he is not putting his weight on the outside pair of limbs, he is not bent properly to that curve. Think about this as you longe or ride in walk, trot, amble, or pace, where it is very easy to see and feel.
Now as to cantering, the technical thing you have to understand is that in order to canter, a horse must canter either on one lead or the other. Whether he canters on the left lead or on the right lead is something the rider or handler should specify, not just "speed up until you fall into a canter." That way, it's a mess, and that's mostly what we see rider/handlers doing -- creating a mess, because they conceive of the canter as a "speed" or "gear" analogous to 3rd gear in a car.
The canter has two parts or aspects, each of which must be addressed separately and perfected to a certain point, before the animal will be able to depart, at the rider's request, upon the lead that the rider specifies: one, he must first adopt the lead; and two, he must respond with respect and promptitude to the rider's request for higher energy output.
If your horse has been in the habit of ignoring your leg, then you need to work on that at walk, trot, pace, and amble, and you do that by repeated halt-walk-trot, halt-walk-amble, halt-walk-pace. You stop and then you go, and you mix it up so the horse doesn't know whether or when you're going to stop and go, so that he begins paying better attention. And, you remember NEVER to squeeze; the horse does not "go" because he's a tube of toothpaste. Instead, you tap with the calf and then give him a few heartbeats to respond by increasing the vigorousness of his movement. If you get no change, you clobber him with the whip or by whumping him with both calves or heels, very firmly and then be sure you don't grab the reins when he jumps forward: you've told him that when you say 'go' you mean it, so don't lie to him as Buck would say. Once you've whumped him, then after his response peters out, you come to a stop again and tap him, and see if he doesn't respond promptly -- 99% of horse will. And then from there on out, this becomes the rule: respond with respect, or else get clobbered. But NEVER EVER squeeze -- that's how you teach the horse to ignore you.
You also teach the horse to ignore you when you tap tap tap with the calf and the horse does nothing, and then you tap tap tap again, and on and on without clobbering him. Or you cluck cluck cluck. Students in my classes are forbidden to use mouth noises of any type. Get out of that habit. Do not dissipate your energy through your mouth; use your legs! Whomp if needed!
And again: you teach your horse to ignore you if you drift off mentally. So you ask tap tap tap, and he makes to respond, but you ignore it or are unaware of his good response, and you thus don't reward. You stroke his neck and you STOP TAPPING OR ANY OTHER TYPE OF PRESSURE when he responds. You must release to his response.
And again: you live to a standard, or else you teach your horse to ignore you. That means: on a horse of 15 hands, the walk MUST PROCEED at NOT LESS than 5 mph, better 6 mph. No exceptions to this during schooling rides in the arena, other than when you are actually slowing to a stop. If you ask for a good 6 mph walk, but the horse has been in the habit of schlepping along at a 3 mph walk, and you ask and he does not make a change after four heartbeats, then you whomp him. And then you ask again, and he does make a change but it goes from 3 mph to 4 mph. That merits praise. Then you ask again and it goes from 4 mph to 5 mph, and that merits praise. From then on out, EVERY SINGLE TIME HE GOES SLOWER THAN 5 MPH UNTIL ONE OF YOU DIES, you are to "remind" him tap tap tap to get the speed back up to 5 or 6 mph, and if he does not respond, then whump him once and ask again tap tap tap until he gets the picture. No horse wants to be either whipped or whumped and you will be amazed how little it will take until he adopts the new and highly desirable habit of walking along, willingly and pleasantly, at 6 mph. But YOU have to demand, and live to, this standard.
So much for the "response and raise energy" part of the canter departure. That's the 2nd half. The first half, the thing that has to happen first, is that you must put the horse on the lead. And the horse goes on the lead AT THE WALK when he is bent, which as you learned above, means when he puts weight onto the outside pair of legs, especially (for the canter) onto the outside hind leg.
In sum, in order to canter, you (1) Put the horse on the lead while he is still in the walk, and then (2) while he maintains the weight distribution appropriate to that lead, you ask him for the energy rise. If you do this, he will canter with ease every time you ask, on the lead that you specify. Cheers -- Dr. Deb
|Thanks Dr. Deb. We’ve been working on these things.
It took about 2 rides of ‘ask then whomp,’ and now she’s quite light to my leg and it takes no effort to ask her to speed up the walk or to switch to pace. I’m still working on my quietness here, as sometimes when I want her to just pick up the walk she’ll launch into pace; I’m figuring out the volume of my aids here. I’ve even felt moments where she thought about going into the canter, a slight hop up, but I’m still working on getting the bend right at the same time so it falls apart quickly. I’m not too worried about that, I’m actually excited that I even feel that little hop coming in. One thing I noticed is that I was indeed “lying.” I was being too dependent on my hands to help me balance her movement so when she would go up to the pace I was inadvertently pulling on her mouth. I’ve been practicing coming up on a completely loose rein and sitting her pace (you have a thread about sitting the trot where you describe tennis balls shooting out of the knees, and this visual helps me tremendously in not losing my balance). I’ve also noticed she is figuring out how to stretch down and relax in the transition when I actually give her the freedom to do it, so I’m pleased. She can maintain that for several strides before she braces and it gets hard and choppy again. What’s your recommendation on my strategy when it gets choppy? Right now I’ll just ask for downward transition back to walk, maybe stop, rebalance, and then start over and ask for upward into pace again. Or maybe I should try to ride through the choppiness a little longer? I do suspect it is created by me, I think I’m just not balanced enough and it throws her off.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that even though I’ve practiced small circles a bunch over the years, I realize I was putting her on circles too small for her to bend properly unless she slows down. This has given her the impression that when I ask for a small circle, she can slow down almost to a stop sometimes. Now I’m paying more attention to what the appropriate size circle is (the one that she can successfully bend on) and I put her on that and insist that she maintain a working walk while bending. Your description of what to feel for in a bend in that other thread is quite helpful. These are getting much more fluid and after a few minutes she’s loosened up enough to do fairly small circles (probably 10m) at a decent walk speed without losing steam.
So far, I’m pretty happy with how things are progressing and we’ll keep practicing this. Thanks for your help and support!
Last edited on Sat Sep 29th, 2018 09:17 pm by sumosha
|Sumosha, once she loosens up in circles, then alternate circles with serpentines of the form where the loops of the serpentine are half-circles (no diagonal lines, as in a "snake trail", also a useful exercise but not the one we want here). Pay good attention to how her ribcage feels when it switches from the left to the right bend and vice-versa. This is a very crucial moment, because you want to know whether she can change bends as easily and fluidly going right to left as going left to right. Most horses are asymmetrical in this respect and so, a major goal of training is to get that ironed completely out, so the horse (as Tom Dorrance used to say) "does not mind whether it works to the right or works to the left." This is the practical definition of "straightness". Cheers -- Dr. Deb